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Putting the past behind them: A year removed from a stunning regional loss, Morgan Township captures first title


La PORTE -- The wound may have healed, but the scar was still there.

Saturday's Class A regional at Schreiber Field couldn't erase what happened to Morgan Township in the same situation a year ago -- when Marquette Catholic rallied with four six-inning runs to stun Morgan Township -- but its 8-6 win over Tri-Township sure went a long way in leaving it in the past.

“We didn’t feel good about how we left it last year, almost giving that game away, Marquette did what they needed to do that game, but we felt we didn’t execute the way we wanted to,” Cherokees coach John Smith said. “So coming back, that was always in the back of our mind, competing for a sectional title and coming back and winning a regional. I’m glad for those guys. They’ve had that in their mind all and stayed focused on that all year. These guys, the senior class, has been through it the last couple of years, so to get this for them. It's a a great group of guys. I couldn’t be prouder of them."

A season removed from that low point, Morgan's class of eight seniors headed by Jack Wheeler found a way to bring home the program’s first regional title – culminating in a postgame dousing of a Gatorade bucket of water over Smith.

“This one feels really good,” Wheeler said. “As soon as we won this game, it was a lot of relief. We learned from our mistakes and we were able to pull out a win. It’s awesome. Coming from Morgan Township, it’s just cornfields there, so it’s really fun to have all this. We’re gonna have a little fire truck thing going on, it just means a lot to our little school. And the great part about this team, even with eight seniors, there’s still a lot of younger guys, so this is just the beginning of what’s gonna come here in a couple of years. These guys, as long as they stay together, they’re gonna be really good.”

Much like the weather, a persistent rain, the game wasn't pretty. The Cherokees (13-13) mustered just two hits (Grant Cowger and Bradley Farris), scoring four times on wild pitches, three on sacrifice flies from Cal and Clint Lemmons and Matthew Symer, and lastly on a Chase Rosenbaum groundout in the sixth. Morgan drew nine walks and was hit by four pitches.

“That’s our team,” Smith said. “The whole year, we’ve been able to get some guys on base and as of late we’ve been doing enough to score those guys. We might’ve not got a bunch of hits, but the guys did enough whether it was sac flies or just moving runners, knowing the zone and being disciplined at the plate – that’s all part of the game."

In a game headlined by a pair of aces, Tri-Township junior Dillon Stewart and Wheeler, both had their struggles. Stewart, who tossed a two-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts against the Cherokees on May 8, didn't get an out in the forgettable third, when he was relieved by Kade Koselke following his fifth walk and Morgan pushed its lead to 6-1.

Morgan Township coach John Smith holds Noah Duhamell at third base during Saturday's Class A regional at Schreiber Field. The Cherokees won 8-6. (Photo by Mike Kellems)

“Look at it across the board there, seven hits to two hits,” Tigers coach Mike Schoenradt said. “Walked too many kids, too many passed balls. That’ll lose baseball games. Dillon said he couldn’t grip the ball and Kade kind of said the same thing. The weather definitely came into play there with control. I think our focus was good. It’s just one of those things that when the weather is bad, you as players have to work through that – you guys have to change things. Whether it’s dialing stuff down or changing different pitches, like if your curveball isn’t working, don’t throw that, learning curve kind of stuff.”

Tri-Township (11-9) wouldn’t blink in the face of the five-run deficit as it touched up Wheeler, a Valparaiso commit, for four hits and five runs in the top half of the fourth. Cody Vernich walked to lead off the frame and pinch-runner Ethan Hood scored after Koselke found the left center gap for a double. Faced with two strikes and two outs, No. 9 hitter Colin McArdle knocked a line drive down the left field line to plate Koselke and Tanner Ringle, who walked. Rust and Noah Kneifel followed with singles as Kneifel scored McArdle, but the play wasn’t done just yet. While Morgan appeared to call timeout, it was never granted and Rust found his way to third, then raced home to tie the game at six as the throw rolled into left.

“That kid is going to VU and we drilled him all over the place,” Schoenradt said. “I told them that, ‘guys, just go out there and hit.’ I wasn’t worried too much about that honestly. I put the machine on 90 (miles per hour) all week, so we were ready for that by any means."

Wheeler racked up nine strikeouts, but walked four and was touched for six hits and six runs before being relieved by Cowger to start the sixth. It was the most runs Wheeler had allowed this season, though he and Cowger kept Tri-Township scoreless after the third.

“I definitely had to change a little bit,” Wheeler said. “It was tough at first, I was good in the first inning and then it started to rain even more. I think just the more time I took on the mound for myself to just regroup, dry the ball and make sure everyone was ready, I think that helped a lot. I’ve always come with the same mindset into every game that I think I’m the best pitcher here, that I wanna be the best and I’m gonna be the best and I think that mindset helped a lot. Even though we had to deal with the conditions, we found a way and Grant came in for me and was able to shut the game out."

Cal Lemmons' fly ball broke tie in the fourth and the Rosenbaum grounder made it 8-6 in the sixth.

Logan Atchison scores a run for Morgan Township in Saturday's Class A regional at Schreiber Field. The Cherokees defeated Tri-Township 8-6. (Photo by Mike Kellems)

“Jack’s the kind of guy that wanted to be out there,” Smith said. “He’s been our guy all year, so I trust him in those big moments where things maybe aren’t going our way. He’s kind of able to calm us down and get us back to what we’re trying to do. “He grinded through five and did enough and then Cowger, our lefty, came in and pitched a heck of a job, keeping them off balanced. There’s a lot of experience there between them. We battled. It wasn’t the greatest conditions and both teams took advantage of some stuff, and I’m glad we just did enough to get the win for them.”

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